The Shock Doctrine 4: Parallel Lines

by matttbastard

Chapter 3: States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the  Counter-revolution

(Previous posts here, here and here; Sarah’s posts here.)

I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. …

former US vice-president Dick Cheney

Infamous Chilean despot General Augusto Pinochet died in December of 2006. His passing came one month after Milton Friedman, the man whose faithful acolytes, as Naomi Klein outlines in Chapter 3 of The Shock Doctrine, helped lay the ideological groundwork for the bloody counter-revolution undertaken by Pinochet and his right-wing brethren. (For the grim details, see Trend over at Alterdestiny).

As Klein notes:

For the first year and a half, Pinochet faithfully followed the Chicago rules: he privatized some, though not all, state-owned companies (including several banks); he allowed cutting-edge new forms of speculative finance; he flung open the borders to foreign imports, tearing down the barriers that had long protected Chilean manufacturers; and he cut government spending by 10 percent — except the military, which received a significant increase.  He also elimiated price controls–a radical move in a country that had been regulating the cost of necessities such as bread and cooking oil for decades.

But, as Klein further notes, despite assurances from the Chicago Boys that these radical ‘market reforms’ would (somehow) spur a decrease in inflation, inflation in Chile jumped to 375 percent in 1974, “the highest rate in the world and almost twice the top level under [former president Salvadore] Allende.” Sensing a shift among both the public and, most disturbingly, Chile’s business elite, the Chicago Boys “decided to call in the big guns,” enlisting Friedman himself to use his “rock star” presence to sell economic shock-therapy by sheer force of will.

And it worked:

In his letter of response, Chile’s supreme chief expressed “my highest and most respectful regard for you,” assuring Friedman that “the plan is being fully applied at the present time.” Immediately after Friedman’s visit, Pinochet fired his economic minister and handed the job to Sergio de Castro, whom he later promoted to finance minister.  De Castro stacked the government with his fellow Chicago Boys, appointing one of them to head the central bank.

[...]

Freed of the naysayers, Pinochet and de Castro got to work stripping away the welfare state to arrive at their pure capitalist utopia. In 1975, they cut public spending by 27 percent in one blow–and they kept cutting until, by 1980, it was half of what it had been under Allende.

Elsewhere, in Brazil and Argentina, other right-wing juntas perfected the Chilean model, waging a dirty war on those whose left-wing ideological leanings were in opposition to the wave of corporatist economic and social reform underway within the nations of the Southern Cone. But behind the counter-revolutionary action in Central and South America lurked a covert American presence, one that provided both training and materiel to the military arbiters of radical neoliberal ‘reform’ under the dubious auspices of  Operation Condor.  According to Klein, as part of the infamous program “the intelligence agencies of the Southern Cone shared information about “subversives”–aided by a state-of-the-art computer system provided by Washington–and then gave each other’s agents safe passage to carry out cross-border kidnappings and torture, a system eerily resembling the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” network today”.

The justification for the dirty work was the same then as it is now: a war on ‘terror’, in which it was deemed necessary to sometimes skirt the boundaries of human rights and dignity in order to serve a higher purpose.  Whether that purpose was the spread of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ or neoliberal doctrine is, of course at the heart of both Klein’s book and this series. Regardless, as Klein notes, the parallels between what occurred in  the 1970s and 80s and the post-9/11 era are striking.

Sarah outlines these parallels in further detail:

Warrantless wiretapping certainly isn’t mass disappearances of citizens, but it is a tool that keeps everyone in fear that they are next. It suppresses dissent and keeps people in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled. America hadn’t undergone enough of a shock to allow, for instance, Social Security privatization, but in Chile and the other Friedmanite regimes, torture and repression left people unable to fight back.

In a NY Times op-ed (adapted from a lengthy essay published in the New York Review of Books), Mark Danner shows in stark detail just how far the Bush administration was willing to go in order to fight its contemporary “war for freedom and against tyranny”, as Argentinian Junta leader Admiral Massara at the time justified his nation’s embrace of the dark side:

Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques applied.

At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu Zubaydah:

“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside…. They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”

After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.

“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.

“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”

After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.

“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week.”

Danner concludes:

The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.

As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.

Klein estimates that the number of individuals tortured in the Southern Cone during the 70s and 80s was “probably somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000, tens of thousands of them killed.” Though the numbers of so-called ‘enemy combatants’ who faced torture in CIA black sites represent a mere fraction in comparison, the willingness to throw away stated values in the name of a greater goal is borne of the same moral limbo, where ends justify all means, no matter what. And, as Sarah noted, even though the numbers are far from comparable, the effect remains the same:  keep the populace “in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled.”

Tomorrow: Chapter 4: Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does its Work

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New Challenges, New Opportunities

by matttbastard

The most recent edition of openDemocracy’s 50/50 quarterly features an interview with Dr. Yakin Erturk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, on how the global economic crisis is affecting women.  Dr. Erturk also notes the import of ‘political economy’ in the pursuit of women’s rights, especially during a time of financial upheaval.

A sample:

We refer to human rights as if they were confined to civil and political rights; this is also reflected in the twin covenants which have divided rights into civil and political on the one hand, and economic and social on the other. The latter is generally seen as inspirational and the first one as the real thing. But we know from women’s lives that unless we have a holistic approach to women’s rights, whereby women can achieve economic independence or are at least empowered socially and politically, the rights they may read about in books do not reach them. So my final report to the council this year is taking up this challenge: I have argued that underneath the surface of many of the things that we talk about as being cultural, there is a solid, material basis which feeds certain concrete interests and relationships; and that unless we dig down into that base we are talking at a very abstract level. Culture can take on a life of its own, so that we assume that that is the reality, when half the time nobody really understands its true impact.

We are all cultural beings: it is very hard to attack cultures. What I wanted to do in my culture report was to connect this to a more profound analysis of concrete interests, real power – hence political economy. Particularly in the neo-liberal era, it is political economy which is creating new challenges for women’s rights, while at the same time, of course, creating some new opportunities.

As they say, read the whole damn thing.

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Der Spiegel: Former Peace Negotiators Call for End to Hamas Boycott

by matttbastard

This is big:

They were part of the peace settlements in Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia, they negotiated with militant groups like the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or the IRA in Northern Ireland and a few of them were also engaged in the Middle East peace process. Fourteen elder statesmen from Europe, Australia, South America, Africa and Asia are calling in an open letter for the Mideast Quartet, comprised of the European Union, United Nations, Russia and the United States, to end their diplomatic boycott against Hamas.

The signatories of the letter, which is being published exclusively by SPIEGEL ONLINE in Germany and the Times of London on Thursday, include former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami; Alvaro de Soto, who served as the UN envoy for the Middle East Quartet from 2005 to 2007; Lord Chris Patten, the former British governor of Hong Kong and European Commissioner; and Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served as the High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina and oversaw the implementation of the Dayton Accords.

[...]

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Ben-Ami told SPIEGEL ONLINE the letter was directed equally at the European Union and the United States, but also at Israel. “Israel has to start thinking outside the box. I can recall the case of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO didn’t recognize Israel as a precondition, but as a result of the Olso process. The same should happen with Hamas.”

The letter (PDF format)

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The Shock Doctrine 2: Clean Slates

by matttbastard

Chapter One: The Torture Lab

Ewan Cameron, the CIA and the maniacal quest to erase and remake the human mind

(previous posts in this series here and here; Sarah’s take on chapter one is here)

“Economic growth may one day turn out to be a curse rather than a good, and under no conditions can it either lead into freedom or constitute a proof for its existence.”

- Hannah Arendt

The first chapter of The Shock Doctrine is, without a doubt, one of the most disturbing things I’ve read in some time.  Naomi Klein renders her shock therapy metaphor viscerally literal, outlining a horrific series of Cold War-era CIA- sponsored experiments conducted on unwitting Canadian mental patients by renowned Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Ewen Campbell of McGill University–techniques that Klein contends are now (or, at least at the time the book was published, were) “being applied to prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.”

Rebecca Lemov explains what Cameron did on behalf of his generous patrons in the U.S. intelligence community:

Cameron’s goal was to wipe out the stable “self,” eliminating deep-seated psychological problems in order to rebuild it. The CIA wanted to know what his experiments suggested about interrogating people with the help of sensory deprivation and psychic disorientation.

Cameron’s technique was to expose a patient to tape-recorded messages or sounds that were played back for long periods. The goal was a condition Cameron dubbed “penetration”: The patient experienced an escalating state of distress that often caused him or her to reveal long-buried past experiences. At that point, the doctor would offer “healing” suggestions. Frequently, his patients didn’t want to listen and would attack their analyst or try to leave the room.

In a 1956 American Journal of Psychiatry article, Cameron explained that he broke down their resistance by continually repeating his message using “pillow and ceiling microphones” and different voices; by imposing periods of prolonged sleep and by giving patients drugs like Sodium Amytal, Desoxyn and LSD-25, which “disorganized” thought patterns.

To further disorganize his patients, Cameron isolated them in a sensory deprivation chamber. In a dark room, a patient would sit in silence with his eyes covered with goggles, prevented “from touching his body — thus interfering with his self image.” Finally, “attempts were made to cut down on his expressive output” — he was restrained or bandaged so he could not scream. Cameron combined these tactics with extended periods of forced listening to taped messages for up to 20 hours per day, for 10 or 15 days at a stretch.

In 1958 and 1959, Cameron went further. With new CIA money behind him, he tried to completely “depattern” 53 patients by combining psychic driving with electroshock therapy and a long-term, drug-induced coma. At the most intensive stage of the treatment, many subjects were no longer able to perform even basic functions. They needed training to eat, use the toilet, or speak. Once the doctor allowed the drugs to wear off, patients slowly relearned how to take care of themselves — and their pretreatment symptoms were said to have disappeared.

So had much of their personalities. Patients emerged from Cameron’s ward walking differently, talking differently, acting differently. Wives were more docile, daughters less inclined to histrionics, sons better-behaved. Most had no memory of their treatment or of their previous lives. Sometimes, they forgot they had children.

Klein drives home the destructive impact of Cameron’s experiments by profiling Gail Kastner, one of the victims of his attempts to “penetrate” the human mind.  Kastner resides in a cluttered apartment within what Klein describes as “a grim old age home”,  beset by chronic pain due to severe injuries suffered during her time spent as one of Cameron’s subjects. The legacy of trauma is not just physical; Kastner suffers from lingering psycological damage, severe nightmares involving Cameron, long dead, and the shocks that he administered 63 times during the course of her ‘treatment’, sending “150 to 200 volts of electricity” coursing through “the frontal lobes of her brain, while her body convulsed violently on the table, causing fractures, sprains, bloody lips, broken teeth.”

Kastner does her best to compensate for the damage, scrawling out seemingly inconsequential details on scraps of paper and old cigarette boxes, “extremely dense handwriting: names, numbers, thousands of words”. Klein explains that, for Kastner, these constitute “something more than an unconventional filing system.  They are her memory.”

As Klein notes, “Gail’s mind has failed her; facts evaporate instantly, memories…are like snapshots scattered on the ground”.  Cameron’s desire to “unmake and erase faulty minds , then rebuild new personalities on that ever-elusive clean slate” was all-too effective, leaving Kastner and others who were victimized in this quest to dissect the human consciousness “as empty as Eve,” as fellow shock therapy survivor Marilyn Rice described her remade and remodeled self.  Klein gets to the root of where Cameron and, as further detailed later on in the book, economic shock therapists like Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs are misguided in the chosen method of treatment:

The problem, obvious in retrospect, was the premise on which [Cameron's] entire theory rested: the idea that before healing can happen, everything that existed before needs to be wiped out.

(Creative) destruction in order to cleanse the world of corruption.

Sarah notes that the evils perpetuated by Cameron and, later, by “pro-war hawks who call for the bombing of countries ‘back to the stone age'”, (an analogy made by Klein that is, in my mind, all-too-apt) are not borne of comic-book villain malevolence; rather, “these people quite often do think in a strange way that they’re helping.” Still, regardless of intent, the goal remains the same, as do the means of achievement: “wipe out the stable “self,” eliminating deep-seated…problems in order to rebuild it.” As we’ll discover in later chapters, this clinical quest to return entire societies by way of severe trauma –and, consequently, the individuals like Kastner who collectively make up these societies–to what the disaster capitalists believe to be an Edenic state of uncorrupted economic purity has been embarked upon numerous times throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

And the consequences have been no less devestating than what Kastner now has to live with for the rest of her life.

Next week: The Other Doctor Shock: Milton Friedman and the Search for a Laissez-Faire Laboratory

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On Diversity, The New York Post, and Cartoons That Just Aren’t Funny, Man.

by matttbastard

My partner-in-crime, Sarah Jaffe, is on deadly point re: cartoonist Sean Delonas and the now-infamous New York Post race fail:

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post said on MSNBC (at about 3:55 of the video) that the problem might’ve been caught if there was better diversity in the workplace. For example, I’d be willing to bet that many of the people who defended the cartoon on [Newsarama blogger] Caleb’s post [link added--mb] were white. I’m not trying to beat up on anyone for being white–I’m white. But the thing is, being white, we simply don’t deal with racism the same way. This is what diversity does: it provides multiple viewpoints, multiple frames of reference for the same subject. This doesn’t mean controversial subjects should be avoided at all costs, but that fraught images like this one can be examined from different perspectives, and that perhaps a better critique of the stimulus package could’ve been produced.

Exactly so. And it’s not simply mainstream/right-leaning media outlets that could greatly benefit from a more diverse selection of voices.  Check out this wanktastic basket of white liberal fail at Mother Jones (yes, that Mother Jones) from some douchebucket named Daniel Luzer (“It’s pronounced Loot-zer”), who says that Al Sharpton should just, like, STFU “because the cartoon isn’t offensive, unless you’re an ape.”

Luzer digs his trusty shovel in deeper:

This cartoon has nothing to do with the ethnicity of Obama’s father and everything to do with the fact that the stimulus bill is messy. So messy, in fact, that it could have been written by a chimpanzee.

[...]

You many not even get the cartoon at all (stimulus=monkey?), but that’s understandable because it’s not that funny; it’s just not racist either. Sometimes a joke about monkeys is, well, just a joke about monkeys.

And sometimes a privileged hotshot straight outta Columbia J-School is simply a clueless tangle of unexamined privilege and egoverridden certaintude. But, hey, thanks for explaining to us dumb apes what is and isn’t ‘racist.’  If there’s one thing every (needlessly!) aggrieved negro needs it’s a walking whiteboy encyclopedia of TRUE bigotry to calmly and rationally tell us to, um, chill the fuck out, man.

Me and my elevated blood-pressure are simply overcome with gratitude.

DJ rewind:

[B]eing white, we simply don’t deal with racism the same way.

Rewind, my selekta:

[T]he cartoon isn’t offensive, unless you’re an ape.

Yeah, that.

Related: Bil Browning and Erica C. Barnett note that Delonas has a longstanding history of being an “equal-opportunity asshat”, as Barnett aptly dubs him–so much so that GLAAD has compiled an ongoing dossier of his greatest defamatory hits.

Barnett wins the intertubes for the day:

So, for the record, here’s a (presumably noncomprehensive) noncomprehensive list of groups Delonas hates/considers worthy of mockery: the womenz, the gays, the blacks, the fatties, the handicapped, the oldsters, and the blind. Given that list, I’m thinking Delonas’ only audience is, what, angry white male misanthropes with body anxiety and mommy issues?

Yeah, AKA the core subscriber base of the Murdoch Post.

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The Doctrine in Action

by matttbastard

Hooray for shock therapy in Afghanistan:

Senior British, US and local aid workers have described a number of problems [with reconstruction in Afghanistan] including bribery, profiteering, poor planning and incompetence. The overall effect has been to cripple the development effort structured under the Bush administration’s insistence on an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction.

“The major donor agencies operate on the mistaken assumption that it’s more efficient and profitable to do things through market mechanisms,” a senior American contractor working in Afghanistan told the Guardian on condition of anonymity. “The notion of big government is a spectre for American conservatives and this [the reconstruction process] is an American conservative project.”

The contractor said the “original plan was to get in, prop up Karzai, kill al-Qaida, privatise all government-owned enterprises and get out. It wasn’t a development project, that wasn’t a concern. Development was an afterthought.

The Graun calls this “poor planning and incompetence.”  Sorry, but “an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction” may be indeed reflect willful indifference and a shoddy understanding of what proper reconstruction of a failed state actually entails.   But it goes well beyond ‘poor planning and incompetence;’  This is outright criminal negligence on the part of pathologically obsessive free-market ideologues who didn’t give a good goddamn about cleaning up the mess they made.

In other words, textbook disaster capitalism.

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The Shock Doctrine.

by matttbastard and Sarah J

We’re watching the collapse of capitalism in real time, slow motion.

The economic crisis was largely the result of a vast speculative bubble, one that inevitably had to burst, and those in charge of U.S. and global economic policy knew this, but did nothing to prepare for the impending crisis. The effect was magnified thanks to a deliberate ongoing campaign of ideologically-motivated deregulation for the sake of deregulating. In other words, this didn’t just happen in a vacuum. It didn’t sneak up. It was very much deliberate.

Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine details exactly how we got to this point. The book came out in 2007, but right now serves as kind of a ‘how did we get here,’ with ‘here’ being the new Depression.

It’s a fairly well-known and well-read book in progressive circles, and yet neither Sarah nor I had read it yet. With the bottom falling out of the economy, and inspired by Erik and Rob’s posts on From Colony to Superpower, we decided not just to read the book, but to blog it, reading chapter by chapter, in two places, to see what we each draw from it.

Reading The Shock Doctrine allows us to examine a series of cataclysmic events that have occurred over the past 50 years, so we can hopefully avoid repeating the same mistakes (or allowing the same warped, Utopian ideals to usurp the public debate).

Most importantly, to prevent the same tactics from being applied now, in the wake of the biggest global economic shockwave yet.

Because the more we read, the more imperative we think it is to tie Klein’s thesis and investigations into what’s happening right now, as Friedmanite ideologues continue to preach the doctrine of deregulation and tax cuts as panacea.

So, starting tomorrow, we’ll have posts up once a week, mine here, Sarah’s at Alterdestiny. We agree on lots of things, but come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to draw different readings of the book. We’re inviting all of you, whether you’ve read the book or not, to join in the discussion, and hope we can cross some of our audiences back and forth and gain some insight into the global economic mess.

(x-posted @ Alterdestiny)

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